We eat meat less and less these days. When we do break our mostly vegetarian diets, it’s usually for pork or beef. For some reason, chicken doesn’t really do much for us—especially chicken breasts—except when it comes to our poultry weaknesses: fried chicken or whole roast chicken.
While we don’t often fry chicken at home because of the resulting mess we’d need to clean up, we more frequently turn to roasting a whole chicken. There’s something that screams “quintessential Sunday dinner” about a roast chicken dinner, and we’re not immune to such charms.
Luckily for us, over a decade ago we evolved the perfect way for us to cook our whole chicken: on the grill. We cannot credit any one recipe or chef for our recipe since we cobbled together elements of Taunton’s Fine Cooking, Steven Raichlen’s How to Grill, and tips from Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, Ruth Reichl, and other less famous figures. I think we can safely say that this is our recipe now.
Step 1: Buy a good chicken
Get yourself a free-range organic (and/or kosher) whole roasting chicken, not larger than 3 ½ lbs.
We’ve seen plenty of documentaries and heard horror stories about what goes on in chicken “farms” and processing facilities. Moreover, we were one day terrified to discover that a cheaper whole chicken we got from a grocery store was deformed (I’ll spare you the details). That has put an end to purchasing cheaper cuts of meat. We’re now firmly in the camp of those who save money by eating cheaply as vegetarians and then splurging on occasional forays into eating only quality cuts of meat.
Step 2: Prep the chicken
At least a few hours before you want to eat your dinner (at least 4 hours ahead but as much as 24 hours earlier), rinse your chicken inside and out, remove visible chunks of fat, and then pat dry with paper towels.
Mix together 1 teaspoon chopped thyme (save the sprigs), 1 teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon freshly grated black pepper. Peel 5 cloves of garlic and then thinly slice three of the cloves. Halve a lemon. (Note that it’s perfectly fine to use lemon halves/parts which have been grated or juiced for other purposes. They’ll serve fine. My cooking motto: Don’t be too fussy about cooking.)
Carefully pull away skin from the chicken at the breasts and at the drumstick areas such that you can stick your fingers inside both areas and slip in garlic slices. In the picture below, you should just be able to spot slivers of garlic in the breasts and drumsticks areas. (You can skip this step if you wish, but including this extra step will produce much more flavorful chicken.)
Then rub a little of the salt mixture inside the chicken, and then rub it also outside the whole of the chicken. Then, into the cavity of the chicken place the thyme sprigs, remaining cloves garlic, and lemon halves. Then put the chicken in the refrigerator until 30 minutes before you want to start cooking.
Step 3: Roast the chicken
Take the chicken out of the fridge and let it come closer to room temperature. Depending on your grill, you might want to start the gas 5-15 minutes before you want to start cooking. Have the gas on M-O-M (Medium-Off-Medium) if you have 3 bars of heat. (If you only have 2 bars, then use Off for the inside setting and Medium for the side closer to the opening.)
When it’s almost time to put the bird on the grill, melt 1 tablespoon butter and then brush the butter on the chicken. You don't have to bother "trussing" the chicken. Place the chicken (breast-side up) in the middle of the grill (or wherever the Off portion of the heat is), close the lid, and cook with indirect heat for about 1 hour. Make sure that the temperature inside the grill hovers around 350 degrees and that you are monitoring the grill for flare-ups.
Unless there are serious flare-ups, you should be able to leave the chicken in its place for the hour. You can baste with more butter, but we hardly ever do that. After about 45 minutes, check the temperature just to make sure that it’s not too cold. If so, you might need to adjust the heat. (Play around with this to make sure that you figure out a good process for your grill.)
Once the chicken reaches 180 degrees of internal temperature, it’s cooked. The bird should be nicely brown, with crispy skin. Take the chicken off the grill, let it rest for 5-10 minutes, and then enjoy!